The skeleton of documentary photography

Skeleton (2021)

What I do is most accurately described as documentary photography. It is similar to photojournalism or street photography. It differs from the former by not being focused on current events and from the latter by not being focused on people, although it can cover both. What it has in common is a certain style of realism. Photography itself might look like the most realistic of all visual arts but of course it is not. From the choice of framing, the exposure, color settings and the myriad ways of post-processing an image, photography can be as real or as artificial as the photographers wants it to be.

Documentary photography, at least for me, is concerned with showing the world as it is as much as it is possible with this medium. Of course I pick out scenes that I want to emphasize and try to tell a story. I not only want to show what I saw but I want to show what is and how it is. My style of documentary photography won’t arrange a scene, won’t alter colors and exposure beyond making sure to depict what I perceived and certainly won’t edit any picture (with the exception of correcting optical or technical flaws which uncorrected would introduce artificial distortions to the image’s realism).

This image shall be an example. The biggest deviation from reality is the choice of taking the image in black and white. Even though the reality is (for us humans) in color I still show what is there by removing color. I want to emphasize shadows, highlights, shapes and structures and color can be distracting. Like zooming in on an object and omitting the surroundings enhances the perception of said object. I am not adding something that was not there. I only focus the attention on some particular aspects of the scene. Something we humans do in milliseconds without even noticing it but photography allows us to carefully and deliberately freeze our eye’s and mind’s attention.

The lower part of the image is too dark to make out any details. Modern software would certainly allow me to lift the shadows and bring light into the dark area. But this is how I saw it when I looked at the skyscraper. The bright sky making it only possible for my eyes to either see the tower or the dark area below the overpass clearly. The upper left edge is part of the train car’s window frame that obstructed my view somewhat as did the reflections on the window pane. They are there because I wanted to capture how all the people taking this train would see the skeleton skyscraper grow slowly every day. A show set up unobstructed from the platform would have lost this kind of temporal perspective.